Host-parasite associations and host-specificity in haemoparasites of reed bed passerines

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The host specificity and host sharing of avian haemoparasites (genera Haemoproteus and Plasmodium) is still poorly known, although they infect a large proportion of several studied bird populations. This study used molecular techniques to detect haemoparasites in marsh warblers and in other passerines that feed in reed beds, at 4 sites in Portugal. The host-specificity of the parasite lineages was analysed and compared with other cases described in the literature to assess whether apparent host specificity changes according to the studied system. Nine lineages of Haemoproteus and 15 of Plasmodium were found, of which only 10 Plasmodium were proven to have local transmission. Each lineage was confined to a distinct set of host species. The distribution of parasites in the host species was non-nested, meaning that specialist lineages did not always share hosts with generalists. The most prevalent lineages were those with a wider host range, indicating that the ability to infect more hosts will enhance a parasite's prevalence in its entire host range. We also found that in our areas, a specialist parasite (H. MW1) appears to have a more generalist character than described in the literature, suggesting that a parasite's apparent specialization can depend on the type of host species sampled.

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